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“Row”–defined by the OED as “a noisy or violent argument”–is a useful word, being roughly in the middle between “fight,” on the one hand, and “quarrel” or “argument,” on the other.

It is definitely a Britishism–or at least, has been one since about 1930, according to this Ngram viewer chart. (The OED‘s first citation is from 1746.) I searched for the phrase “had a row” to reduce other uses of the word.
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My sense is that in recent decades, “row” has generally been limited in the U.S., first, to pretentious people  and, second, to headline writers, based on another useful quality: its brevity. However, this sentence appeared recently in the text of a Wall Street Journal article, in reference to a Philadelphia woman: “Mrs. Stokes, 63, was arrested twice in 2008 and 2010 during rows with her now-estranged husband.”

I searched “had a row” on Google News and had to go back about 90 hits before I found one from an American source–a Chicago classical music website. But it turned out to be a quote from a British director. So for now, useful or not, “row” is still “on the radar.”

Red Nose Day


Nick Offerman with red nose

John Wall writes with the suggestion of new concept for this blog: the cultural Not One-Off Britishism. The import he has in mind is Red Nose Day, which I just learned was started in the U.K. in 1988 as a way to raise money for charitable causes through comedy performances on TV and, apparently, rampant photos of people wearing red noses, in the manner of clowns.

On May 21, Red Nose Day is coming to the U.S., through a variety of NBC broadcasts and other events.

It seems like a good cause, but with all due respect, the brand needs some work, since (in my humble opinion), there is little that’s unfunnier than a clown.


“Cuttings” is the BrE equivalent of the AmE “clippings”–that which one clips, or cuts, out of the newspaper and puts into a scrapbook or whatever. It turned up in a New York Times article the other day about Herbert Warren Wind, the late golf writer for the New Yorker, whose papers at Yale University, Karen Crouse wrote, “contain seven boxes brimming with the cuttings of a well-sown life.”

I had been a longtime reader and admirer of Wind (who died in 2005) and, because of his name and literary style, always had a sense that he was British–which would make the “cuttings” rather appropriate. But no–Crouse’s article reveals that he was a native of Brockton, Mass.

[Update: The comment by “popegrutch,” below, convinces me that I made a mistake and Crouse wasn’t perpetrating a Britishism at all: the “cuttings” she referred to was a botanical metaphor, not a journalistic reference.]

I swear I didn’t plan this

In my e-mail inbox just now:

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Spotted in Greenwich Village, NY


More on “Weds.”

I’ve just finished the new thriller “The Girl on the Train,” written by the Englishwoman Paula Hawkins. I read the American edition and I’m not sure to what extent (if any) British expressions in the original were translated into Americanese. But there were a few that cropped up repeatedly: “buggy” (Americans would say “stroller”), “come round for a visit” (“around”), and one I wasn’t aware of–the transitive verb “quieten,” as in “quieten a baby.” Americans say “quiet.”

When I was almost done with the book, I came upon this (I’m pretty sure there aren’t any spoilers):


The thing that caught my eye was “Weds.” Longtime readers may recall my dislike of this abbreviation for “Wednesday” (my preference is “Wed.”), and my not notably successful attempt to determine if it’s a Britishism.

(If you want to know why it annoys me, here’s why: “Wed.” is a perfectly good, shorter, abbreviation; there is no tradition of skipping over letters in abbreviations [there is “Dr.” and “Mr.” but they go right to the last letter in the word]; and “Weds.”–unlike a decent abbreviation–doesn’t even represent how the first part of the word sounds–that would be “Wends” or “Wens.”)

“The Girl on the Train” would suggest, though it doesn’t prove, that a Britishism “Weds.” is.

“On the up and up”

Jan Freeman remarked on Twitter that she had been hearing the phrase “on the up and up” meaning “improving” instead of “honest.”

There are indeed two general meanings of the phrase. The one I’m familiar with is “honest” or “on the level,” and the OED identifies it as originally American, with citations going back to 1863.

The OED doesn’t specify any nationality for the “Steadily rising, improving, or increasing” meaning. The first citation is from The Baltimore Sun, 1930: “From now on, we are led to believe, law and order will be on the up and up, as the current phrase is.” But that strikes me as ambiguous–that is, it could mean that law and order is on the level, as opposed to on the rise. All the other citations are from British sources.

But in any case, as Jan suggests, it’s now being used in the U.S., as in this  from a March post in “to say that Thrive [Capital] is on the up and up would be a massive understatement.”

Any Yanks out there who have a sense that  “on the up and up”=”on the rise” is a long-term thing over here?